A new report from the University of Vermont stresses the importance of factoring weather into strategic plans designed to support smallholder farmers.

There are up to 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide, providing food for 80% of the people living in low income countries. And they are facing mounting pressures from climate change. To help them deal with these challenges, it is vital they receive the right interventions.

In the Vermont study of 2000 smallholder in Africa and Asia, Meredith Niles, from the University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science and lead author of the study, said: “Understanding the climate context is important in determining what interventions may be most effective.”

The study revealed that farms with less than average rainfall saw their food insecurity issues lessened with the introduction of financial support, while at the other end of the spectrum, smallholders faced with above average rainfall, benefitted more from ‘agricultural inputs and practices’, including livestock and fertiliser. While areas with average rainfall needed both.

Niles said: “Water is a fundamentally limiting factor. If you don’t have it, then agricultural inputs likely don’t matter. What you need, at least in the short-term, is cash. We don’t see an effect that financial strategies in wetter than average households make a difference in the short-term. But these financial strategies seem to be especially important when drought or reduced rainfall impacts crop production and income sources.”

She added: “The majority of smallholder farms rely on rain-fed agriculture, so they are vulnerable to climate change, which is slated to likely increase rainfall variability. Our work suggests that without appropriate interventions, these future conditions may worsen food insecurity.”

An interactive map from the World Food Programme and the Met Office highlights the devastation climate change will have on food security in the coming decades without action. And while more needs to be done to stave off these projected problems, strategies have to be right now, to help those already being hit by climate change.